If you've been training in the gym for several years, then you're probably already part of a unique club. No, this isn't a secret Fight Club that you're not allowed to talk about. Rather, you are likely among the millions of lifters who plan their weekly schedules around their muscle groups. You wake up each day and already know it's shoulder day, or leg day, or chest day. You engage in split body part training, and you have probably trained this way since the very beginning.
Splitting up your muscle groups into 4 or 5 days makes sense. And most athletes do it. You get to saturate a muscle group with 15 to 25 sets of intense training. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) will kick in, and yes, you are going to be sore! That muscle group takes a few days to recover, at which point you come back bigger and stronger. You enjoy exactly 52 training sessions each year for each muscle group, resulting in 52 mini-growth periods each year. It's like clockwork, and it's worked pretty well.
Ever the thinking man's bodybuilder, you are always open-minded to new training systems which could allow you to grow bigger or stronger. And a new-yet-old way of thinking goes like this: If you could train your muscle groups more often than just once a week, they would grow more each week.
One rule which can help to keep this idea from getting out of hand is the 100 pound/ 24 hour rule of recovery. Essentially, this rule states that a muscle group needs about 24 hours to recover from each 100 pounds you lifted. If you did abs crunches or calf raises, you likely didn't move 100 pounds, and you can train that group the next day. If you hit shoulders with 40 pound side raises, they'll likely be recovered in 2 days. If you squatted moderately using 280 pounds, then you'll probably need about 3 days to let that muscle group recover. If you're deadlifting 400 pounds, then you'll likely require 4 days of recovery time before that muscle group is recovered adequately and ready to be trained again.
Planning your own workout for more-frequent training can be tricky. If you're going heavy, then you cannot train each muscle group each day. However, if you're in a period of moderately heavy weights, then you can certainly cut back the volume and hit each muscle group several times each week.
A natural adaptation occurs as the athlete attains more and more years of training experience. The natural reduction in performance ability you experienced early on in your training begins to subside as your muscles grow bigger and stronger. You don't need 7 days to recover biceps. Heck, you probably can't remember the last time you were sore for 6 days after training legs using heavy squats. Yet you are underachieving by giving your body a full 7 days to rest and recover each time.
Full body workouts are finding a home in many intermediate to advanced bodybuilders' training routines. Instead of hitting each muscle group once a week, athletes are learning it is possible to train the entire body 3 to 4 times each week, just as they did when they were beginners!
How much training volume should you use if you're considering full body workouts once again? Finding that optimal training frequency is an individual thing. Start by spacing your full body workouts every 3rd day. As the weeks pass, you will likely quickly adapt to the workload and begin training every other day. Then there may come a time, given adequate recovery, proper nutrition, and intensity management, that you can even train in this manner on back to back days.
The amount of weight you plan on moving needs to be reduced greatly as well. For this period of full body training, you should not be using maximum poundages for multiple sets. If you are going to go for an all-out bench press set, then that needs to be your chest training for that session. You should be back in 48 hours in terms of recovery. However, if you go all out for 6 or 8 sets of benching, then you'll still be quite sore in two days, which means you will have to make an adjustment to either the training schedule, or the amount of weight you are using.
Remember that if your training volume is dropping, then your caloric needs are going to drop as well. Training for 60 to 90 minutes with the weight, 5 days each week, burns a tremendous amount of calories. If you end up training the entire body 3 days each week for 1 hour, then you are going to need far fewer calories. Keep the diet the same, and you'll quickly notice you're putting on the pounds - and not in a good way! Slowly reduce your carbohydrate intake to match what you're reducing from overall gym effort and caloric expenditure. Take progress pictures and measure your waistline to make sure!
You may need to also bump up your cardiovascular training to accommodate the new reduction in overall training volume and to keep your metabolism bumping along as usual.
Some athletes discover that full body training just doesn't work for them. Perhaps they require the 15 to 25 sets of a full-body session, so that they can truly reach that mind-muscle connection. Advanced athletes usually locate it quickly. Newer athletes take much longer to find that pump, that feel.
The most effective training system is most likely one you aren't using right now. Full body workouts which allow the muscle groups of the body to receive full stimulation are becoming quite popular with many top muscle athletes. It may be time for you to give it a try!